CATONSVILLE NINE HONORED Six members attend tribute


Black and white images flickered across the screen.

A group of neatly dressed men and women dumped papers from two wire baskets, poured liquid on the pile and set it alight.

Joining hands, they prayed as the burning sheets danced into the air. The police arrived and took them to jail.

Suddenly yesterday, it was May 17, 1968, again and the Catonsville Nine -- seven men and two women led by two Roman Catholic priests -- had invaded a Frederick Road Selective Service office and burned draft records using homemade napalm.

For many in the audience the pictures carried them back 25 years to their youth and the time that the small fire on a Catonsville parking lot invigorated the anti-war movement and sparked similar protests across the country. But for most of the spectators it was a glimpse of history.

Then the lights came up and it all came to life, as the 250 people in the Merrick Auditorium at Goucher College stood to applaud the six members of the Catonsville Nine who filed on stage and hugged in a joyous reunion.

The men accepted the tribute quietly: Philip Berrigan, 69, the former Josephite priest; his brother, Daniel, 72, a Jesuit priest; Tom Melville, 62, a former Maryknoll missionary and now a cultural anthropologist; John Hogan, 58, also a former Maryknoller now a carpenter; Tom Lewis, 53, an artist who works with the poor; and George Mische, who worked in Central America for the Alliance for Progress and now is a labor organizer and political consultant.

Of the other three people, Dr. Margarita Bradford Melville, 63, Tom Lewis' wife and a former Maryknoll nun, remained in California for a graduation at Berkeley, where is she chairman of the Chicano studies department and associate dean of graduate studies; Mary Moylan, 58, who worked as a nurse in Africa, has dropped out of sight; and Brother James Darst, who was known as David, died in a car wreck at age 26 in October 1969.

For those who attended the Goucher celebration it was a day of prayer, song and reflections on the peace movement's role in the eventual cessation of the Vietnam War, and questions of where the movement went after that and where it will go in the future.

The six men spoke of their continuing commitment to opposing American military ventures and supporting various other causes, although they no longer all see civil disobedience as the only appropriate method.

The six were the main attraction, but the event had strong additional meaning for visitors and organizers. "Learning to act peacefully is more difficult than reacting violently," said Joe Morton, director of Goucher's Peace Studies Program and a veteran of 30 years of anti-war and anti-government protests.

In time, "governments may learn to honor such people instead of imprisoning them," Professor Morton said. The Catonsville Nine "acted with love toward all, that was their motivating principle," he said. "And if we leave here with that belief, the Catonsville Nine will have had an impact today as well as 25 years ago."

William M. Kunstler, 74, the flamboyant New York lawyer who defended anti-war protesters in most of the high-profile trials, including that of the Catonsville Nine, told a cheering audience that "there has never been significant social progress without street demonstrations."

Showing he is as feisty as ever, Mr. Kunstler said governments never act unless they are pushed by external forces.

"The people are the repository of all power and unless they make the government afraid it will not re-act. That is the lesson of the Catonsville Nine. We must be prepared to do what we have to do or the government will ride over us."

The war in Bosnia is generating a high level of national frustration and is "becoming a test of faith for pacifists," Mr. Kunstler said. "The response seems to be leaning toward the military, but there must be alternatives."

Mr. Mische, whom some have credited as the mastermind of the Catonsville Nine raid, said: "The real value of Catonsville was that so many groups came from it." The protest showed clearly that "if we want to change policy we've got to have action, real or symbolic."

Organizing was the real accomplishment of the Catonsville Nine -- it was "real political action," Mr. Mische said.

Susan Ziegler, 20, a Goucher sophomore majoring in peace and women's studies, said she knew "very little about this event and I have come to learn." Ms. Ziegler, from Salisbury, said the Catonsville Nine incident has been mentioned during class discussion of nonviolent protest.

"I think they showed a lot of courage," said Ms. Ziegler, who added that she joined rallies to protest the Persian Gulf war, which was a war supported by the American people. "I felt good about myself for it."

Eirik Harteis, 24, and his wife, Allison Frederick-Harteis, 25, represented Pax Christi Metro D.C., the Washington-area chapter of the Catholic peace and justice movement.

Ms. Frederick-Harteis said they came "just to see the legacy of the Catonsville Nine," while her husband added: "The candle that was lit in Catonsville 25 years ago is still burning. It is still an example."

"The sickness of our generation is apparent; it is a generation that was cut adrift," Mr. Harteis said. The actions of the Catonsville Nine and other faith-based resistance groups who followed them must be remembered, he said, "so that we are ready when the next Vietnam comes. My fear is that the people of my generation haven't gotten the message."

Kelley Dean, 25, a St. Mary's College junior, said she is curious about the implications for today of the Catonsville Nine's example of nonviolent protest. The world has degenerated so much in so many ways "and there is so much corruption that it's hard to know where to start."

"Nobody knows where to start, and I'm just beginning my journey," said Ms. Dean, who is working at a summer job at Viva House, a Baltimore Catholic worker community.

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